Election Watch Update - Mar 1

The Election Commission of Pakistan has reportedly withdrawn letters written to legislators asking them to verify their educational degrees, an issue that has sparked criticism of the ECP across the board. The issue of fake educational degrees has run for several years now, stemming from allegations and proven cases of legislators submitting falsified degrees to contest elections. A bipartisan parliamentary committee met with the ECP on Thursday. According to Law Minister Farooq H. Naek, candidates will have to submit original degrees along with their nomination papers for the next elections. Degrees will have to be verified by the Higher Education Commission. Dawn reports that legislators appeared ‘relieved’ by the gesture.

The ECP and Attorney General of Pakistan have been asked to respond to a 2007 petition on the creation of separate electoral rolls, based on changes made by Pervez Musharraf. According to the petition, the measure discriminates against Ahmadis as they have to identify themselves as such when registering to vote and a refusal to do so would see their names struck off the list and is illegal, because it goes against the principle of a joint electorate. The petition will next be heard on March 11.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain has accused the Pakistan Peoples Party of repeatedly ‘betraying’ it. “If we can bring them in power…we can get rid of them also,” Hussain is reported to have said on Thursday. The MQM quit the coalition at the centre and Sindh government level in February, citing the PPP’s alleged support for criminals among its reasons.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik says the ECP should take action against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz for having contacts with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned militant organization that has been involved in attacks against Shias throughout Pakistan. The allegation stems from the PML-N’s alleged electoral agreements with the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the banned political-religious group that has served as a parent group to the LeJ. The PML-N denies the allegations.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf reiterated that elections would not be delayed.

The ECP may hire and train bank employees for the elections, given that it needs 700,000 staffers for the process.

The Punjab government has asked divisional police chiefs across the province to send a tentative contingency plan, including details of its personnel and other requirements, for the upcoming general elections.

The Press Council of Pakistan has issued draft guidelines on how to cover the elections. These include encouraging the electoral process, providing fair and unbiased coverage, identifying advertised content as such and avoiding speculation and inflammatory commentary.

The News reports that the Pakistan Awami Tehreek has been left without a leader after Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s return to Canada.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairperson Imran Khan claimed that his party would have a better showing in elections than the landmark victory of the PPP in the 1970 elections.

The Muttahida Deeni Mahaz, a coalition of six religious groups, is finalizing candidates in the first week of March and has not received any positive responses for its requests for seat adjustments from the PTI, Jamaat-e-Islami or the PML-N. The coalition comprises the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Sami-ul-Haq), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Noorani), Pakistan Rah-e-Haq Party, Jamaat Ahle Hadith, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan.

PPP’s former general secretary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Dost Mohammad Khan and Malik Shamsheer Haider Wattoo, a PPP legislator in the Punjab Assembly (PP-57 Faisalabad-VII) joined the PML-N, along with former PML-Q MPA Yaqoob Shaikh, who resigned this week. Wattoo’s father and uncle have been previously elected to the Punjab Assembly. National Assembly legislator Riaz Fatyana, who recently quit the PML-Q, is also reportedly talking to the PML-N about joining the party. PPP MPA Malik Fayyaz Awan (PP-105 Hafizabad-I) has quit the party, and is expected to resign his Punjab Assembly seat and join the PML-N.

Commentary:

Dr Attaur Rehman, the former head of the Higher Education Commission, looks at the ‘fake degrees scandal’, and says that no one with a ‘fake degree’ should be allowed to contest the upcoming election. – The Express Tribune

Iftikhar Ahmed analyses why Pakistanis vote for politicians who are known to be corrupt and involved in illegal activities, and writes that corruption has now become acceptable in Pakistan and the electorate isn’t lily white either. – Jang (Urdu)

Nazir Naji studies the attempts by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman to become prime minister. – Dunya (Urdu)